Not surprisingly, for it is widely accepted that he was made a scapegoat for the killing, they concluded that James Stewart must have been innocent, and that Alan Breck Stewart (the main suspect, who James Stewart
was charged with abetting) could not be held responsible in the absence of evidence as to his whereabouts at the time. Indeed they conclude therefore that if there was no clear evidence that Breck Stewart committed the crime, then James Stewart could not have abetted its commission, and that there was no basis for an indictment against him.
But this is hardly news. The trial is a notorious miscarriage of justice: a politically motivated trial aimed at suppressing dissent in the turbulent period following the 1745 rebellion. James was scapegoated, a convenient target for the authorities because he was known to have quarreled with the victim and was, moreover, a leading member of the rebellious local Stewarts. The trial was held in Campbell country - Inverary - before an unsympathetic judge and jury. Legal argument was limited and legal niceties such as doctrines of complicity were brushed aside in the rush to obtain a conviction. Moreover, there was nothing that we would understand as forensic evidence, and the kind of legal protections that we take for granted today were considerably less robust. So it is hardly surprising that, judged by modern standards of forensic evidence and criminal procedure, the outcome is found wanting. So why do it
|James Stewart's Monument,|
|Robert Louis Stevenson|
The case clearly fascinates - though it is likely that few would have heard of it today were it not for the brilliant novels of Robert Louis Stevenson (Kidnapped and Catriona) which took the case as their backdrop.
Even in these works Stevenson is careful to hedge his bets - while he seems to suggest that Breck Stewart is responsible, he does not go so far as to depict him actually pulling the trigger, and in other respects paints him as a romantic rebel with whom the reader sympathises. And as befits someone who is known to have read the legal account of the trial (and was trained as a lawyer) he does not pretend that the trial was fair - and even without the benefit of contemporary forensic evidence he is able to lay bare the injustice of the outcome.
So faced with these alternatives it is surely better by far just go and read the novels - for which we surely need no excuse.